Globalization & the Pacific Islands | Blaise
How does the globalization of culture impact Pacific Islanders' lives?
During my time in Japan, my eyes have been opened to the United States’ oppressive territorial control and engagements in the Pacific. I have struggled to find any pride in my country when I know we are part of a dominating and oppressive military force around the world. After reading a chapter in Gender and Globalization in Asia and the Pacific by Kathy E. Ferguson, I was shocked by the contemporary militarization and subsequent globalization of the Pacific. From Ferguson's reading I started to question the rise of globalization, militarization and weighing both the negative and positive effects of the two influences.
Although I am nowhere near understanding the full extent of globalization on the lives of Pacific Islanders, I do have a personal experience allowed me to reflect and see first-hand some of the lives of US military officers in Okinawa.
From my own interpretations and reflections of visiting good family friends, Coach Taylor, her husband and Naval doctor, Brian and new baby boy, Luke on the Naval and Marine Corps housing base in Okinawa, I have wrestled with the idea of globalization and its consequences.
Inspired by other various artistic reflections that I have watched such as, Samoan Hip Hop, Kathy E. Ferguson’s slam poetry, and in-class readings, I have decided to illustrate my experience in the form of an interpretive blog. My hope is to demonstrate my understanding through narrative rather than a formal research paper.
Here we go.
During this past November, I found myself squished between Jehovah’s Witness and a middle-aged woman. I was on a flight to Okinawa, Japan to visit Coach Taylor, my old cross country coach and her family. While during most of the flight I fought to find the perfect position to sleep, I did however strike up a conversation with “Jehovah,” a pleasant Japanese Jehovah’s Witness (who I don’t remember the name of – bear with me).
I am not religious, but I didn’t mind making pleasantries or discussing the technological improvements his ministry invested in to make the readings of the Bible accessible for everyone around the world.
The conversation didn’t last long before the flight attendant informed us of our impending arrival. At that point, “Jehovah” handed me a green pamphlet that guided me to the church’s new website, informed me of the church’s global membership and the upcoming events.
In my head, I remember thinking something to the extent of:
<How has globalization promoted and demoted religions around the world?>
<During the colonization of Hawaii and other Pacific islands, wasn’t it the missionaries that started to colonize, imperialize, and now globalize local cultures, religions and traditions?>
<How did he find his faith?>
We continued to descend.
While on my left Jehovah continued to talk about the importance of religion, on my right, a middle-aged Japanese woman glued her face to the airplane window. The sun was slowly sinking behind the horizon, I could see the outline of Naha and feel wheels of the Jetstar aircraft unfolded beneath me. The arrival promoted a crescendo of questions that pound my brain.
The part of my brain that was closest to “Jehovah” produced cacophonous questions both as general and specific as: what is the meaning of life? Why am I here in Japan? It’s absolutely fantastic that I have the opportunity to visit my old cross country coach in Okinawa. Why did this opportunity come up? Oh right – Coach Taylor’s husband works in Okinawa. What does he do? He’s a military doctor. Why is the U.S Military in Okinawa? Isn’t that bad? I know my coach’s husband is a Naval doctor, isn’t that different than the military? Right? He’s the good one though- it is the other forces that have harmed the community.
While a storm of questions thundered on my left side of the brain, the right side of my brain made me want to ask the old lady to unglue her nose from the window so I could see Okinawa’s paradise islands that I have heard so much about.
I was split.
Despite a semester of learning about American colonialism, imperialism, “mili-tourism”, cultural appropriation and the oppression of the people in the Pacific islands --- there was STILL a part of me that didn’t wanted to admit that I, too, was going to be part of the culturally oppressive system. I didn’t want to think about the negative effects of globalism and how I was contributing to it.
I wanted to go to Okinawa.
It was just after we had touched down on the tarmac when I was smacked with the presence of “mili-tourism”, the hand-in-hand presence of tourism, paradise and the American military.
<From Guam to Okinawa to the Marshall Islands, the U.S military is known for “setting-up-shop” in strategic cities that have both the best ports and beaches. According to Joseph Hicks, author of “Guam, the U.S Territory in the Line of North Korea’s ‘Enveloping Fire,’” Pacific Islanders have had to live through 50+ nuclear tests and decades of military occupation. From the increase of global networks and globalization, Theresa Teaiwa states that, “Globalization increases the rate of militarization in Pacific/Oceania by limiting economic and development choices for island nations” (Teaiwa 321). With the large presence of global franchises catering the 30,000 American population, it is inevitable that local Okinawans have had a difficult time competing in the market.>
Just a few hundred meters from our commercial plane, I saw what looked like a fighter pilot plane. Craning my neck even more, I saw the slick, grey matte coloring of the aircraft. It had a distinct, prominent, probably aerodynamic, snout that pointed towards us. As our commercial plane taxied, open airplane hangars revealed two, four, eight more Tom Cruise-esque fighter-pilot jets. This wasn’t a movie set.
When Keelyn and I boarded off the plane, we were greeted a seemingly endless line of orchids, posters of tropical resorts and islands… for a moment this replaced our image of fighter jets.
After we picked up our bag, Coach Taylor, family friend and mentor, picked us up and steered into the beautiful Okinawan night. On our way, amongst ice breaker conversations, we drove passed, brightly colored, flashing, restaurants, clubs, and gambling centers.
Since I was hesitant to ask about the negative effects of the military, I opted to ask about the role of pachinko parlors, the gaming and gambling centers that are prominent in Japan. Although my first question was simply, “what is the purpose of the pachinko parlors,” I was surprised to find that Coach Taylor jumped into explaining the presence of various sketchy entertainment business in Okinawa including, strip clubs, bars, and game centers that littered the island. As the conversation continued on to topics such as effect of 9/11 on the military presence in Okinawa, the Ryukyu Kingdom and its deterioration, and more, I felt confident talking to her about these divisive topics. In some ways, it was reassuring to know that Coach Taylor has the same bittersweet sentiments of being an American in Okinawa.
From our car ride back from the airport to our introduction to the procedures on Camp Lester and the American community, I was amazed to see the similarities of the book Gender and Globalization in Asia and the Pacific. Similar to Teaiwa, Coach Taylor has many familial ties to the military but is not part of the organization herself. However, even though she is not directly connected with the military does that mean she is “militarized”?
According to Kathy E. Ferguson, Coach Taylor is part of the U.S military system and the influence of militarization “has been both an empowering and dispossessing force” for different aspects of her family life (Ferguson 328). As Coach Taylor described it, she is very content with living in Okinawa. Her family has a supportive community, they live in a safe neighborhood to raise their new son, they have access to various amenities, a stable job and more. I remember while we were in the car driving up the coast, she described her life as, “comfortable.” However, the comfortableness is established in terms of the amenities that the military provides. So…she is militarized? She is part of the military system… but is that necessary a bad thing?
However, Coach Taylor made a conscious effort to highlight both the positive and the negative effects of the military in Okinawa. During one of our excursions that weekend, Taylor drove past the huge U.S military bases and pointed out the demolition of tropical land for the use of the American military. She took us to the “American Village,” a restaurant and food shopping center and talked about how it was nice to get a taste of home in a convenient, safe location – but a bubble for the American community. She talked about the restrictions that many of the unaccompanied marines were under such as strict curfew and base limits, but also the occasions when the officers caused absolute havoc (i.e. sexual harassment and murder) in the local community.
<Murder? How can you continue operation when an officer murders a local citizen or anyone?>
The military is a system that has an incredible number of flaws, but Coach Taylor’s family contributes to the care and health of the community.
How can you fight the fact that your voice is only as loud as the megaphone you speak through?
How can Coach Taylor change the situation she is in? Ignore it? Maybe. React? Probably not. Teach? Explain? Yes. For a 72 hours, I was immersed in a mix of emotions about the American military – I experienced how the military supported a new family and provided them with resources for a healthy life. On the other hand, I got a snapshot of how Americanized/globalized the city was and the lack of authentic Okinawan culture.
What to do now?
<Well, now I want to know more about how the Okinawan people are reacting or protesting against the American military. After watching the videos of Samoan Rap stars, I want to know and support the artists or protesters that are defending their land and territory. I now feel inclined to learn more about Prime Minister Abe’s plan to change the Japanese constitution to a militarized nation. Through this reflection, I feel obligated to be part of the alteration of international organizations. I want to be part of finding the sweet spot of globalization and the dwindling process of militarization around the world.>
I want to feel confident sitting in between a Jehovah’s Witness and an intrigued middle-aged Japanese woman. As I descend on my future career, I want half my brain both question the actions we take and critique the reality in which we live in, but the other half also experience these issues first hand.